Jailed freelance American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi turns 32-years-old today.
Sentenced last week by Iran’s Revolutionary Court to eight years in prison for being an American spy, Saberi, will spend her birthday in Tehran’s Evin Prison, reportedly on her sixth day of a hunger strike.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is now trying to win Saberi’s release.
Jackson said Saturday he has spoken to religious leaders in Iran, the Associated Press reports, requesting to take a group of multi-faith leaders to Iran to plea for Saberi’s release.
"This is not a political trade off; this is a humanitarian plea. We want to say, ‘On the basis of humanity, please let her go,"’ Jackson told The AP. "When it’s just government to government, it’s a power play. She ends up being a pawn or a trophy in a pingpong game between nations."
Saberi, who was raised in North Dakota, interviewed Jackson as a journalism student at Northwestern University.
During my exclusive interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president refused to intervene in Saberi’s case, insisting the courts acted independently and that he is "sure she will not be mistreated."
I asked Ahmadinejad if he would release Saberi as a goodwill gesture, as President Barack Obama has called for:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about another journalist, another American journalist, Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi who of course has been convicted of espionage here in Iran. President Obama has given his personal word that she is not a spy. Do you accept that and as a humanitarian goodwill gesture would you release her?
AHMADINEJAD: I am not a judge. And I do not pass judgment over judicial cases. In Iran the judiciary is independent. Our judiciary is not a political apparatus. It passes judgment in accordance with the law. This is a case like other cases. However, I have stressed that like others, the accused should be accorded her full rights. I am not happy that people are in such dire straits, let’s say. I am dismayed, I am saddened. However, I am sure that if an individual in the U.S. is accused of espionage, well, the American government — appropriate people are going to deal with that.
I think Mr. Obama as a sign of change and also to encourage friendship should allow laws to be processed fairly and allow the judiciary to carry out its duties.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There is concern over whether she has been given a fair trial.
AHMADINEJAD: I am sure — I am sure that she will not be mistreated. I am sure that she will not be mistreated. There are many Iranians in the U.S. which are in jail, five of our diplomats in violation of international laws were arrested in Iraq. For two years now they have not seen their loved ones and reports state that they are being subjected to torture.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you’re sure she’s not being …
AHMADINEJAD: I am hoping as a sign of goodwill we will see the release. Ms. Saberi is an Iranian citizen. As I have been told, documents relating to her other possible citizenship has yet to be given to the authorities. But however, I assure you that in Iran, justice and fair play will be served and her rights will not be denied her. I am thinking that the accusations against her, again, I’m hoping that the accusations against her will prove to be inappropriate …
STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you can assure her safety. May I go see her for myself to assure that she is safe?
AHMADINEJAD: Let’s see. If our judicial regulations allow for that, sure. But if they do not allow for that, no, I’m afraid not. There are laws, you have to go to the judiciary. In accordance with the regulations they will make a decision. I do not interfere in judicial regulations and law. The judiciary here is independent."
After our interview with Ahmadinejad, we called the judiciary department and even went in person to request that we be allowed to see Saberi. But we didn’t get past the gate.
This week I visited with Roxana’s parents, Akiko and Reza Saberi of North Dakota, who have been staying at their daughter’s northern Tehran apartment since her arrest.
Reza Saberi told me his daughter’s "confession" had been coerced.
"She said they coerced her, they scared her … they frightened her that if she doesn’t sign it they go in there and kill her," Reza Saberi said.
They told me how they have previously been able to talk Roxana out of a hunger strike before — but not this time.
It’s been days since his daughter stopped eating.
We wish Roxana a Happy Birthday and are thinking of her.
The folks at Free Roxana.net have started a writing campaign to win Saberi’s release.